§ Mr. Wolfson
To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he intends to exercise his powers under section 24 of the Coal Industry Act 1994 to abolish the Domestic Coal Consumers Council; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Charles Wardle
In the light of the privatisation of British Coal and the alternative arrangements for the representation of domestic coal consumers' interests which the coal trade is developing, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has decided to abolish the council on 28 February 1995, when the members' current terms of appointment expire. The members are being informed accordingly.
The necessary order abolishing the council as of 28 February 1995 will be made in due course.
The coal trade, under the umbrella of the Chamber of Coal Traders, is establishing alternative private sector consumer arrangements. Progress has already been made with the establishment of a quality grading system by the Solid Fuel Association and the publication by the approved coal merchants scheme of a consumer charter. In addition, the Solid Fuel Association and HETAS— heating equipment testing and approval scheme—are working together to ensure that consumers have access to competent installers and approved appliances. Improvements to the body of consumer protection legislation, the keystones of which are the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and the Consumer Protection Act 1987 continue to be made: the General Product Safety Regulations 1994 came into effect on 3 October.
To ensure that the smooth transition towards private sector arrangements is maintained, my right hon. Friend has appointed the out-going chairman of the council, Mrs. Ann Scully, to advise him on progress. Mrs. Scully will be assisted by Mr. Donald Mockett and Mr. Douglas Barrett MBE, who will offer local advice on the interests of consumers in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. The terms of reference of the advisory group are:—to advise on such further specific arrangements as may need to be established in the interests of domestic coal consumers following the sale of British Coal and its subsidiaries;—in particular, to assist in developing with coal producers, coal merchants and other organisations in the coal trade arrangements by them for the continuation of fume checks, and the establishment of commercial arrangements for the resolution of complaints, the maintenance of quality standards and dissemination of information and advice about the safe burning of solid fuel; and—to report by 30 September 1995.
The Government recognise the enormous contribution which the Domestic Coal Consumers Council's members have made to protecting the interests of domestic coal users over the last 50 years, particularly during the passage of the Coal Industry Act 1994. But the market has changed and the time has come to place responsibility for users' interests where they should lie—with the coal trade. Mrs. Scully and her co-advisers will be able to assist the trade in this.